Who's really to blame for the problem of childhood obesity? You are

Richard Kilgarriff, head of Cartoon Network, hits back at critics who always point the finger at television
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The Independent Online

"CHILDHOOD OBESITY FUELLED BY CARTOONS" screamed the headline as I folded the newspaper into my bag and pushed through the crowd, avoiding eye contact with parent-pedestrians lest they spot me as an evil peddler of animation, hellbent on turning their children's brains into mush and their bellies to pot.

"CHILDHOOD OBESITY FUELLED BY CARTOONS" screamed the headline as I folded the newspaper into my bag and pushed through the crowd, avoiding eye contact with parent-pedestrians lest they spot me as an evil peddler of animation, hellbent on turning their children's brains into mush and their bellies to pot.

I run a network of the UK's most popular children's channels: Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Toonami. Together they make millions of children and parents happy 24 hours a day, every day, all year long. Not a bad way to earn a living by anyone's book - unless your book happens to have the title "The Diary of a Miserable Git" written on it.

We perform this daily miracle of merriment by employing a team of talented, dedicated and passionate professionals, who work alongside an army of cartoon characters. Our most famous character, Scooby Doo, got himself in the doghouse last week by successfully selling his Scooby Snacks and other edible items in full view of shoppers and their offspring, who apparently can't get enough of him.

The Which? report behind the headlines gave us the none-too-shocking revelation that cartoon characters help to sell food. The report itself is sound and well researched. Taken on its own merit, it should help consumers to make more informed decisions about purchasing food for their children. It does not, however, mean that we should point the finger at Shaggy's best friend for the childhood obesity crisis. To do so takes us further down the spiral of blame typified by this issue, and closer towards a pit of ignorance, delegating responsibility for our own society to someone or something else - it doesn't matter, as long as its not my fault.

The night before Scoobygate, Jamie Oliver was trying to squeeze a square meal out of 37 round pennies for a bunch of ungrateful schoolchildren who, as Jamie put it, "can tell you about drugs but don't know what celery or courgettes taste like". I respect Jamie for trying to do something about food in schools, but his show and the constant flow of reports about food and obesity all have one thing in common - pointing the finger at someone else.

In 1998, long before the issue became fashionable with tubby-thumping food "experts", the cost to the NHS of treating obesity-related conditions was already close to £500m, while the loss to the economy through sick days and premature death related to obesity was estimated at £2bn. So the problem belongs to everyone, not just the fat and the ignorant, and with one in five boys and one in four girls between the ages of two and 15 declared overweight by the International Obesity Task Force in 2004, the problem, your problem, is about to get worse. Afflicted by diabetes, heart disease and sloth, we are facing a future in which, for the first time since records began, children will die before their parents. Think about it. Your children might die before you. Not nice, is it? And that's if the Sudan 1, knife-wielding muggers, or crack-addled burglars don't get them first.

So, who is to blame? Surely not the Government, that we pay to educate and protect society? Maybe it could make the streets safe to play in, just like in the old days? Or could it be the manufacturers, who make food convenient, affordable and attractive? What about the supermarkets, with their easy parking and pester-friendly stacking? No? OK, then, what about the teachers, they get long holidays, they must have something to do with it.

And while we're at it, what about the parents - why don't they do some cooking like Nigella Lawson, instead of shoving their poorly nourished offspring in front of the telly for hours on end, subjecting their innocent minds to message after (subliminal) message of, "eat fast food, eat fast food, don't exercise, kill your parents..." And don't get me started on broadcasters, they're the ones that rake in filthy lucre from the adverts and commercial spin-offs. They're not called tellytubbies for nothing you know.

The truth is, we are all to blame for the society in which we live, and the finger-pointing and point-scoring has to stop. This childhood obesity problem is bigger than any political party or supermarket or manufacturer, and much bigger than food advertising on TV.

However, TV is undoubtedly the most powerful medium available to us in the war on obesity, and has a major role to play in communicating healthy lifestyle options to parents and children. Those who really want to change the future, who don't want to attend their children's funerals in 30 years' time, should use TV to fight fire with fire; to make healthy food convenient, affordable, and attractive to children at an age when their imagination craves more than double fries.

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